The mythology of Kata was celebrated at a unique performance at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).
The performance co-incided with the 60th anniversary of British Karate.
The music was composed by Ben Gaunt – himself a Bushinkai 1st Dan and performed by his teacher Simon Keegan, head of the Bushinkai Academy.
Keegan Renshi holds the grade of 5th Dan in Shotokan Karate (awarded in 2012) and he is a member of Shikon as well as IMAF UK and heads the United Kingdom Budo Federation.
The performance was held at LSO St Lukes on Old Street, London.
Ben explained the concept of kata to the audience: “In karate (and other traditional Japanese martial arts), kata is a choreographed sequence of moves used to develop technique, strength, and speed. In essence, they are a kinetic database of punches, blocks, kicks, and throws; regularly practising kata will help you deal with real-life violent situations.
“I have studied karate for about eight years, under Sensei Simon Keegan, and while I have never been particularly great at kata I do find them fascinating. Their intriguing names, translations and mistranslations imbue them with a sense of mystery. The sequence of moves, unique to each kata, possess a rhythm that I find appealing. In fact, they really are quite musical – flurries of activity, followed by cadential moments of repose; tiny, intricate movements followed by sweeping kicks or explosive leaps accompanied by guttural shouts.
“In competitions, martial artists will perform kata, often accompanied by non-live music. The chosen music tends to be bland, unadventurous, and does not resemble or reflect the meaning or movements of the kata. Consequently, the martial artist has to accept that the kata and music will not synchronise (which is, in my opinion, an unacceptable outcome – why have music at all?) or the martial artist has to change and adapt the kata to fit the music (which is, in my opinion, even more unacceptable!). As part of my LSO Soundhub residency I intend to address this by producing a work that synergises and synchronises music and karate. Neither the music nor the kata will be compromised; they will harmoniously coexist and interact.”
The kata they chose, drawing on the folklore (both true and unlikely) were:
Meikyo – said to be based on the Sun Goddess seeing her reflection
Tekki Shodan – sometimes said to be about fighting on a boat
Heian Sandan – a strange looking kata that has great moves well hidden
Bassai Dai – to penetrate a fortress
Hangetsu – half moon
These names and folklore are not necessarily any more than “old wives tales” – but that’s not important – folklore they are and so they were good themes to explore musically.
So the forms begun with the sun, ended with the moon, included a nautical score for Tekki and a crumbling fortress for Bassai.
Keegan said: “My primary interest in Karate is in its applications, particularly close quarters combat. Performance of kata has not been an interest since I hung up my WKA gloves in 1999! However the premise of this project was so intriguing I couldn’t resist.”
Accompanied by London Symphony Orchestra musicians they followed the set kata with a unique impromptu five minute kata in which Keegan improvised, and added a few movements from softer Kung Fu styles to bridge the transitions.
It was a unique project and one that was enjoyed by all.